by Michael Lerner
Turkey and Israel are likely to finalize their reconciliation this coming Sunday at a meeting in an unnamed European capital. Israeli daily Haaretz cited Turkish officials on Tuesday saying that almost all of the differences between the two countries have been bridged with compromises. Ankara and Jerusalem used to be close allies, but ties were ruptured after a Turkish flotilla tried to breach the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza and Israeli forces killed 9 Turkish citizens on board.
But now economic logic more than anything else is bringing the two estranged partners back together. Energy-hungry Turkey would be a natural market for Israel to export its offshore natural gas.
Israel and Cyprus (which have increasingly close ties) sit on an estimated 3,450 billion cubic metres of proven reserves of natural gas buried in the Levant Basin, worth around $700 billion. Any export route to Turkey, and potentially beyond to Europe, would likely need to resolve the Cyprus dilemma (still half-occupied by Turkey for some 40 years) first. That’s a major diplomatic hurdle, but perhaps not insurmountable if everyone wins economically.
Still, even if an Israel-Turkey gas exporting scheme doesn’t happen within the next few years, it is still in both countries’ interest to mend ties. The region is certainly not getting any less dangerous. Indeed, Ankara has dropped its veto over Israel opening a mission at NATO headquarters, so Jerusalem is going ahead with that plan. All parties are eager to cooperate, with NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg calling it “essential.” Israel is expected to share intelligence with NATO — particularly helpful for the Middle East and Mediterranean theaters — as well as offer its considerable expertise on cybersecurity.
Israel met two of Turkey’s key conditions for normalization — an apology for the flotilla incident and compensation to the victims’ families. In return, Turkey dropped its demand for a total lifting of Israel’s blockade on Hamas-run Gaza, accepting an easing in which Turkish aid will play a larger role.
Under the upcoming agreement, Israel is expected to allow the completion of a hospital, a new power station, and a sea water distillation plant in Gaza. Turkey will be able to send humanitarian aid to Gaza but it will be routed first through the Israeli port of Ashdod rather.
Compromise on the last thorny issue — Israel’s demand to shut down Hamas’s Istanbul headquarters — was reached in recent weeks, according to an unnamed Israeli official, who didn’t give further details.
After the substance of the reconciliation agreement is finalized on Sunday, it will be formally signed next month. With that will come the restoration of full ties, including the the return of amabassadors to the countries’ embassies.
Turkey seems to be embarking on a more conciliatory foreign policy following the departure of former P.M. Ahmet Davutoglu, who led an aggressive and interventionist strategy. Last week his successor Binali Yildirim called for better ties with Israel, Egypt, Russia, and Syria, even while political differences remain. Normalizing relations with Israel is a good start.